indefinitely recoverable, indefinitely repeatable
and ever expanding, apparently.
from Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, Ch 2: Sacred Time
For religious man, time like space is ni homogeneous nor continuous.
By means of rites religious man can pass without danger from ordinary
temporary duration to sacred time. By its very nature sacred time is
reversible in the sense that it is a primordial mythical time made
present. Every religious festival, any liturgical time, represents
the reactualization of a sacred event that took place in a mythical
past in the beginning. Hence sacred time is indefinitely recoverable,
indefinitely repeatable. With each periodical festival, the
participants find the same sacred time. It is the time that was
created and sanctified by the gods at the period of their gesta, of
which the festival is precisely a reactualization. In oth words the
participants in the festival meet in it the first appearance of sacred
time, as it appeared ab origine, in illo tempore. Religious man lives
in two kinds of time, of which the more important, sacred time,
appears under the paradoxical aspect of a circular time, reversible
and recoverable, a sort of eternal mythical present that is
periodically reintegratedby means of rites.
Modern man does experience varying temporal rhythms, times of diff
For religious man, certain rituals have the power to interrupt profane
time by periods of a sacred time that is nonhistorical. Sacred
time—intervals of time that have no part in the temporal duration that
precedes and follows them, that have a wholly different structure and
origin, for they are part of a primordial time sanctified by the gods
and capable of being made present by the festival.
Sacred time is a fissure in profane temporal duration; sacred time
periodically reactualized in pre-Xtn religions is a mythical time, a
primordial time, not found in the historical past, an original time,
in the sense that it came into existence all at once, that it was not
preceded by another time, because no time could exist before the
appearance of the reality narrated in the myth.
New Year—the cosmos is conceived as a living unity that is born,
develops, and dies on the last day of the year, to be reborn on New
Year’s day. At every new year, time beings ab initio. The New Year
is a reactualization of the cosmogony, it implies starting time over
again at its beginning, that is, restoration of the primordial time,
the pure time, that existed at the moment of Creation.
Thru annual repetition of cosmogony, time was regenerated, that is, it
began again as sacred time, for it coincided with the illud tempus in
which the world had first come into existence; by participating
ritually in the end of the world and in its re-creation, any man
became contemporary w the illud tempus; hence he was born anew, he
began life over again w his reserve of vital forces intact, as it was
at the moment of his birth.
Recovering the time of origin implies ritual repetition of the gods’
creative act. The periodic reactualization of the creative acts
performed by the divine beings in illo tempore constitutes the sacred
calendar, the series of festivals. A festival aei takes place in
Religious man periodically becomes the contemporary of the gods in the
measure in which he reactualized the primordial time in which the
divine works were accomplished. On the level of primitive civ’s,
whatever man does has a transhumant model; hence even outside of the
festival time, his acts and gestures imitate the paradigmatic models
established by the gods and the mythical ancestors. It is the
periodical reactualizations of the divine acts—in short, the religious
festivals—that restore human knowledge of the sacrality of the models.
The participants in the festival become contemporaries of the mythical
event. In other words, they emerge from their historical time—that
is, from the time constituted by the sum total of profane personal and
intrapersonal events and recover primordial time, which is aei the
same, which belongs to eternity. It is sacred time that makes
possible the other time, ordinary time, the profane duration in which
every human life takes its course. It is the eternal present of the
mythical event that makes possible the profane duration of historical
Rituals can be performed because the gods revealed them in illo
tempore, by creating man and for ex., a yam, and by showing men how to
cultivate and eat that particular food plant.
In the festival the sacred dimension of life is recovered, the
participants experience the sanctity of human existence as a divine
If religious man feels the need of indefinitely reproducing the same
paradigmatic acts and gestures, this is because he desires and
attempts to live close to his gods. Sacred time reveals a desire to
reintegrate a primordial situation—that in which the gods and the
mythical ancestors were present, that is, were engaged in creating the
world, or in organizing it, or in revealing the foundations of civ to
What took place in the beginning is that divine or semidivine beings
were active on earth.
Kosmos is a living and articulated unity.
The ontological obsession to which we have referred and which, can be
considered an essential characteristic of the man of the primitive and
archaic societies. For to wish to reintegrate the time of origin is
also to wish to return to the presence of the gods, to recover the
strong, fresh, pure world that existed in illo tempore. It is at once
third for the sacred and nostalgia for being. A total cleaving to
being; by his behavior, rel man proclaims that believes only in being
and that his participation in being is assured him by the primordial
revelation of which he is the guardian. The sum total of primordial
revelations is constituted by his myths.
The myth is the history of what took place in illo tempore, the
recital of what the gods or the semidivine beings did at the beginning
of time. To tell a myth is to proclaim what happened ab origine.
Once told, that is revealed, the myth becomes apodictic—it establishes
a truth that is absolute.
The myth proclaims the appearance of a new cosmic situation or of a
primordial event. Hence it is aei the recital of a creation; it
tells how something was accomplished, began to be. For this reason,
myth is bound up with ontology; it speaks only of realities, of what
really happened, of what was fully manifested.
The sacred is preeminently the real. Everything the gods or the
ancestors did, hence everything that the myths have to tell about
their creative activity, belongs to the sphere of the sacred and
therefore participates in being. The myth reveals absolute sacrality,
because it relates the creative activity of the gods, unveils the
sacredness of their work. The myth describes the various and
sometimes dramatic irruptions of the sacred into the world. Myths can
only be recited during a sacred period of time. The irruption of the
sacred into the world, an irruption narrated in the myths, establishes
the world as a reality. Every myth shows how a reality came into
existence. Since every creation is a divine work and hence an
irruption of the sacred, it at the same time represents an irruption
of creative energy into the world. Every creation springs from an
abundance. Creation is accomplished by a surplus of ontological
substance. This is why the myth becomes the paradigmatic model for
all human activities. The supreme function of the myth is to “fix”
the paradigmatic models for all rites and all signif human
activities—eating, sexuality, work, educ, etc.
The faithful repetition of divine models has a 2-fold result:
imitating the gods, man remains in the sacred, hence in reality; by
the continuous reactualization of paradigmatic divine gestures, the
world is sanctified. Men’s religious behavior contributes to
maintaining the sanctity of the world.
Religious man assumes a humanity that has a transhumant, transcendent
model. Rel man wishes to be other than he is on the plane of his
profane experience. The only history that concerns him is the sacred
history revealed by the myths—that is the history of the gods. For
religious man, the whole religious life is commemoration
(reenactment), a remembering. The memory actualized by the rites
plays a decisive role; what happened in illo tempore must never be
forgotten. It is in the myth that the principles and paradigms for
all conduct must be sought and recovered.
Profane time: evanescent duration. Sacred time: “a succession of
eternities” periodically recoverable during the festivals that made up
the sacred calendar; the cosmic time of the year, sanctifies by the
works of the gods. And since the most stupendous divine work was the
creation of the world, commemoration of the cosmogony plays an imp
part in many religions. Sacred history recounted in the myths.
Participation in the sacred enables man to live periodically in the
presence of the gods.
Through the reactualization of his myths, religious man attempts to
approach the gods and to participate in being; the imitation of
paradigmatic divine models expresses at once his desire for sanctity
and his ontological nostalgia.
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